Dragons in World of Warcraft have long been reclusive creatures of mystery; they didn't generally interact with other creatures of the world, with few exceptions. Until the launch of WoW, few chose to speak to the mortal races. The red dragon Korialstrasz was a notable exception who interacted with humans and others quite frequently, even holding a place on several councils in organizations like the Kirin Tor and Silvermoon. However, Korialstrasz took mortal form and the name Krasus when doing so and was careful not to reveal his identity.
The same applies for other dragons prior to World of Warcraft, and even in WoW itself. Chronormu, or Chromie as she's more typically called, often interacts with mortals on behalf of the Bronze Dragonflight. As time has passed in game, however, more and more dragon are interacting with mortals in dragon form, no longer feeling the need to disguise themselves or keep their identities a secret. But once upon a time, this ability to disguise and take another form wreaked havoc among the human kingdoms. It all started with a man named Daval Prestor.
In the midst of the struggles against the might of the Old Horde, a plot was discovered, one that was designed to bring the Alliance down from within. Lord Aiden Perenolde of Alterac had struck an arrangement with the Old Horde. It was at this point that a newcomer arrived in Lordaeron, a charming, handsome noble named Daval Prestor. Lord Prestor took a place on the high council of Lordaeron and proceeded to charm the hearts of every leader on the council; even the usually coarse and gruff Genn Greymane approved of Prestor.
When Alterac's betrayal was discovered, it was Lord Prestor who suggested deposing Perenolde and declaring martial law in the region until a new leader could be found. The choice of that leader nearly tore the council apart. There were those that suggested Lord Perenolde's nephew Isiden was the logical choice to take over as successor, while others suggested simply dividing the land between Lordaeron and Stromgarde would be more appropriate.
The Kirin Tor had several misgivings about Lord Daval Prestor, mainly that the man was completely unheard of before he stepped foot into Lordaeron. He professed to be from an obscure region of Lordaeron and claimed bloodlines within the royal house of Alterac, and yet there was no record of him to be found. Though the rest of the high council approved of Lord Prestor, the Kirin Tor continued to search and managed to uncover Prestor's true identity: the leader of the Black Dragonflight, Deathwing.
One may wonder why Deathwing would choose to disguise himself in mortal form instead of simply destroying the human race, especially in light of what he did to Azeroth in Cataclysm. But Deathwing was smarter than any human had given him credit for. He didn't want the human race destroyed -- or at least, not right away. He wanted them distracted while he continued his real plans.
Over the course of the Second War, the red dragonqueen Alexstrazsa had been captured by the Dragonmaw and was being held in Grim Batol as a slave to the Horde. Deathwing planned to "free" Alexstrasza -- or rather, he planned to draw her out into the open, take her eggs and use them for his own purposes. His plan backfired, however. Alexstrasza was freed, but the rest of the Aspects came to her aid and tried to defeat Deathwing then and there. Though they nearly succeeded in taking him down, Deathwing was able to get away, though where he went, nobody was certain.
As for Lord Daval Prestor, he simply vanished, never to be heard from again.
Katrana Prestor was in actuality Onyxia, daughter of Deathwing. Onyxia had been charged with keeping the human race busy, distracted, and thinking of anything but what happened to be going on in Blackrock Mountain nearby. For Blackrock Mountain wasn't just a home to the Dark Iron dwarves of the area; it also housed the remains of the Blackrock Clan, also known as the "Dark Horde," remnants of the Old Horde that was defeated during the Second War.
There was a reason Deathwing wanted Alextrasza's eggs, and it had nothing to do with enslaving the dragonqueen. Deathwing wanted to create a new dragonflight, a superior dragonflight that was only beholden to him, and him alone -- but he needed eggs to work with, and he needed space for his children to grow. Alexstrasza's eggs would provide a start; as for space to work with, he had other plans in the works as well.
He charged his children, Nefarian and Onyxia, with taking over Blackrock Mountain and gaining control over the Blackrock orcs. Rather than being allies, the orcs were to become servants, slaves to the Black Dragonflight. While Nefarian would deal with the orcs directly in the guise of Lord Victor Nefarius, Onyxia had the task of making sure Stormwind's meddling forces didn't interfere with any of her father's plans.
While Lady Prestor was busy working her magic over the courts of Stormwind, Lord Nefarius quickly took over Blackrock Mountain and forced the orcs to work for him. What he didn't expect was opposition from the Dark Iron dwarves that made their home far below the mountain -- and so Lord Nefarius made his home at the highest peaks. Unsatisfied with simply keeping the Blackrock clan under control until his father's return, Nefarian turned to other activities to keep himself occupied.
The chromatics were ultimately not as successful as Nefarian had hoped, and the human race was far more problematic than Onyxia had anticipated. Her guise as Lady Prestor was uncovered, and death swiftly came at the hands of King Varian Wrynn, whom she had spent many years quietly manipulating behind the scenes. With Onyxia's death, the human race could turn their attention to Blackrock Mountain and the apparent resurgence of the Black Dragonflight. Nefarian and his experiments soon fell to the hands of Azerothian adventurers.
It seemed that Deathwing, wherever he'd gotten off to, was no longer interested in the exploits of his children, as he never showed his face during any of the conflicts Nefarian and Onyxia found themselves entangled in. But it wasn't that Deathwing wasn't interested -- he had other things on his mind, like the development of the Twilight Dragonflight and his slow recovery in Deepholm. Though his eventual emergence was a certainty, his plans for Blackrock Mountain and his plans for a superior race were both in jeopardy as a result of his children's failure.
It wasn't just a matter of breeding a supreme race of dragons; it was a matter of life and death. The Black Dragonflight is slowly dying out, not just from the random Azerothian adventurers merrily swinging swords, and not just from the Dragonmaw, whose attacks in the Twilight Highlands have been nothing but brutal, but from the infighting between the black dragons themselves. It's been an issue ever since Deathwing first went mad, thousands upon thousands of years before -- and time is slowly running out for the Black Dragonflight.
So Nefarian was returned to a life of sorts. Deathwing brought his son back from the dead, though the means used remains in question. Nefarian was returned to Blackrock Mountain and immediately retreated further into the peak to continue his experiments. Though it seems that Nefarian is not involved at all with the production of the Twilight Dragonflight, he is still experimenting on the other flights. Dead dragons of all colors can be seen suspended from the ceiling, parts that are waiting to be harvested.
Chimaeron, another of Maloriak's experiments, appears to be a strange hybrid between dragon and hydra, something that apparently had been in the works for years. Indeed, there's a strange sort of similarity between Chimaeron and Chromaggus; it may be that Chimaeron is a later mutation of whatever Chromaggus happens to be. Ultimately, though, neither of these experiments are what anyone could call successful -- but they're hiding what Nefarian's ultimately been up to.
It wasn't just Nefarian that Deathwing rescued; he also retrieved the head of his fallen daughter, Onyxia. That's what Nefarian has been working on in earnest -- reanimating the fallen corpse of his sister. Or at least ... that's all Nefarian has been up to in Blackwing Descent.
And in a way, it's almost a punishment. Nefarian failed in Blackwing Lair. He failed his promise to his father; he failed in his experiments; he failed in his relations with the orcs; and he failed to keep the Dark Iron dwarves in line. Onyxia failed, too -- her overwhelming cockiness and overconfidence in the end turned against her. She underestimated her enemies, thought of them as little more than stupid puppets and didn't expect them to figure out her disguise.
So brother and sister both perished, years ago -- but their deaths weren't at their father's hands, and their father ultimately didn't get to punish them for their misdeeds. Perhaps the return to life wasn't a second chance to prove themselves. Perhaps it was simply a way for Deathwing to vent his frustrations and anger with his children, all the while using them to keep Azerothian adventurers distracted from whatever his real plans are. It would only be fitting, given the vicious nature of the Black Dragonflight.
A distraction is put into place, whether it be the charming nobleman who wormed his way into the high council of the Alliance of Lordaeron or the pretty young woman who schemed her way into the position of high councilor to Stormwind's throne. Each time, the distraction proved to be just that -- a distraction -- while the real problems that needed to be addressed were being conducted elsewhere ... away from prying eyes, undetected until it was almost too late.
As of yet, we've heard nothing of what's in store when we ultimately face Deathwing, so we can't really tell for sure. Given the past antics of Deathwing and his children, I tend to lean towards the theory that we've only seen the distraction, and the real issue will be revealed when we face the Aspect of Death. But the rebirth of Nefarian and Onyxia remains a mystery of sorts; the real reason for their revival can only be found within the mind of their father -- and it's unlikely he's going to start opening up about it.
For more information on related subjects, please look at these other Know Your Lore entries:
While you don't need to have played the previous Warcraft games to enjoy World of Warcraft, a little history goes a long way toward making the game a lot more fun. Dig into even more of the lore and history behind the World of Warcraft in WoW Insider's Guide to Warcraft Lore.